Pinkies Up or Not

The concept of teatime can be intimidating. What are all the utensils for? What do I wear? What time is it, exactly? And should I be worrying so much about the etiquette? Here’s your guide to high and low (also called afternoon) teatime, because no, they don’t mean the same thing.

All About Etiquette

In 2023, etiquette rules may seem antiquated—because oftentimes they are! But, here are a few staples that made it through the years and will help you be a great guest.

  1. Wait to sip or nosh until everyone at the table is served. This never goes out of style because it’s just plain polite.
  2. Place your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit. This will save your clothes and your host’s furniture from food and tea stains.
  3.  Only use your fingers for finger foods. When in doubt, grab a fork or spoon.
  4. Show your gratitude. Before your first sip, cheers to a good time no matter the time or place for your tea!

 

HIGH TEA

  • Typical serving time: 5–8 p.m.
  • Typical dress: Whatever you wore to work
  • Typical food: Heavy fare such as meat, fish, vegetables and bread
  • Typical tea: Chamomile, mint, lavender

High teatime sounds like it’s the most formal, but it is not. It’s actually the opposite.  According to TeaTime magazine, “High tea gets its name from its tendency to be served at a high table, like a dining table or high counter, at the end of the workday.” It’s served with heavier food and is often considered more like a dinner with pies and desserts at the end. It’s the working-class, end-of-day teatime, and there’s very little fuss about it.

 

LOW TEA

  • Typical serving time: 1–4 p.m.
  • Typical dress: Something lighthearted and fun
  • Typical food: Light finger foods, scones and tea cakes
  • Typical tea: Earl grey, assam, green

When you think about cucumber sandwiches and multitiered trays of baked goods, this is the tradition you’re referencing. TeaTime magazine explains, “Afternoon tea, also known as ‘low tea,’ is most often taken at a low table, like a coffee table in the sitting room before a warm fire. It’s served in between meals and is meant as time to talk with friends and family about the day. It does not take the place of a meal; it’s more of a social hour during a non-workday.

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